Category Archives: product review

Berlin half marathon

Last weekend I went to Berlin for a reason, to cheer on my friends running the Berlin Half and drink all the free Erdinger Weisbier Alkoholfrie I could get my hands on.

A few of us signed up for the race weekend away last fall but since then and now I’ve been running less and getting pregnant more so racing a half marathon came off my weekend to-do list.  Still, there is nothing better than a weekend in Berlin and cheering on friends in a great race so off to Berlin we all went.

Right before the trip Karkoa luggage sent me an email to see if I wanted one of their runners travel bags to try out in exchange for a review of it. I have a tried and tested pully bag that I can pack for a race weekend in my sleep and still have room for duty free chocolates at the end, so I checked if Alex wanted to test it out and he was keen. We got the Sport Bag 40 which was the perfect size for our 4 day trip.

Arriving in Berlin we saw the familiar green lines on the race route and started our trip with a sandwich from an all vegan food truck outside our hotel. We didn’t realise it was all vegan until we got to the front of the line but it was so good. I’ll happily be tricked out of meat anytime.

Then we made our way to the expo to pick up race packs and some beers.

My top tip would be to read every single instruction on every email the race sends you. They were pretty serious about everyone having their race pass and photo ID, even not letting one of our friends in until he could locate some ID. After our race bracelets were attached we were given our numbers, luggage bags, a gel , some shower soap, deodorant, and some waterproof kit wash and sent out to the expo for all our sample and neon euro kit needs.

Alex and I found our old friend Fraudolin Fink and then set up at the inexpo beer garden to wait for the others.

We discussed race/spectating strategies and bartered goodybag items (“I’ll trade you a gel and the deodorant for your protein infused post-run shower soap?”) After half the group went to watch the football and the rest of us to eat all the brauhaus specialities.

   

The next day we did some sightseeing around central Berlin. This was our third trip we knew what we wanted to see and since it was such a hot and sunny day we took advantage of all the open patios for much needed sitting and drinking.

More food and drinks as we met up for a great dinner at the amazing Meisterstueck.

Race morning we were up and out of the hotel and walking the racers to the start before finding our first cheer point at the Brandenburg Gate. Laura and I planned our own 3 mile spectating run to try to catch our friends at a few places before the finish line. The Berlin Half marathon is huge with 30,000ish runners and we did our best to cheer most of them on, especially the ones in British running club vests.

After Brandenburg Gate we headed to Potsdamer Platz to see our friend Katie flying past at the 17km mark and then hopped on the u-bahn to the finish near Alexanderplatz.

There were a lot of smiles at the finish line and with the weather still warm we rounded up a big group and headed to a beer garden for a recover metre of fresh beer.

Alex and I capped off the day with dinner at our favourite restaurant in Europe Henne. That potato salad is so so so good!

The next day we took it easy at the hotel and walked around to find one more great Berlin meal at BurgerAMT. Trust them and try the peanut sauce.

Fed and recovered it was a great weekend in Berlin with some running, all our friends, and as always the most food and drink possible.

(Photos: Thanks to Laura & Katie for their excellent selfie taking abilities)

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Altura: made by women for women

When I was sent the A/W kit to test out from Alutra, one of the labels caught my eye,

“Made for Women by Women”

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I ripped the tag off but kept thinking about it, who are these women making cycling kit? I wanted to know more about them and their process for making kit for women. I don’t know about everyone, but before this I associated Alutra with those big bulky neon cycling jackets that 1 in every 5 commuters seems to wear. So, what’s changed now ?

Emma & Sophie from Alutra both kindly took some time out and answered my questions about being product designers for Altura.

Emma Robertson: Product Line Manager for Altura
Sophie Laliberte: Product Creation Manager for Altura

Cycling hasn’t been the most welcoming industry towards women in the past. How did you get into the cycling industry and what would you recommend for women wanting to break in as well?

Emma: While at university my direction was always sportswear and when I graduated I was looking for roles that allowed me to enter the sportswear industry. Fortunately a few months after graduating a cycling brand was recruiting and I got the job!! I really wanted to have a job that works with my lifestyle, we spend so much time at work, why not spend some of that on the bike too. I have now been working in the cycling industry for 5 years and love it so much. I think you should always be true to yourself if you have a passion for cycling what ever the discipline let people know, shout out about it on your Linked in page or cv that’s what I did.

Sophie: I have always been active and participated in various sports growing up. I studied fashion design and I always wanted to work in Fashion, for some reason I ended up working for a sports brand.
I was introduced to the cycling industry working with a cycling brand on the west coast of Canada many many moons ago. While working with the cycling brand in Canada I started to cycle with other people so I could have a better understanding of the product and how to evolve the collections.
You don’t need to be the best and the fastest (as I’m usually the last/slowest) but it is important to have an understanding of the sport and the product that you are creating.
Don’t be afraid, always try and never give up. Believe there is a place for you in the industry and you can make a difference.

Now that “shrink it and pink it” is firmly behind us (for the most part), what are you and Altura actually doing to provide technical cycling kit to the wide range of women out there? What kind of research, measurements, etc.?

Emma:We have female designers and developers that firstly do not want to “shrink it and pink it”, that’s the best part about our team, we want product for us. If we don’t want to wear it on our weekly ride, then we start again.

We also work with WGSN to ensure we are following global trends across Womens lifestyle/fitness not just the cycling industry, and have worked closely with Alvanon for our fit blocks and have fit mannequins. They have conducted extensive research across gender body types to determine an average fit form for their mannequins. We have custom made Alvanon Mannequins in the Product Creation Space to ensure that the fit is correct for the rider. We also conduct weekly fit sessions on various riders/ body shapes to ensure we are catering for various female riders.

Sophie: All of our colours in the range are bases on trends, we refer to the WGSN trend forecasts to understand the global trends. Yes the thinking of “shrink it and pink it” is not our philosophy, although if you find something pink in our range, it’s based on Colour Trend!

We work with specialists in the industry that provide global standard measurements that we use when developing all of our styles. We use universal fit Mannequins in the office, these provide standard body measurements . We also conduct fit sessions on real female riders to give feedback on comfort and technical points that a mannequin can’t provide.

What do you think is the next big advancement in women’s sport/fitness kit?

Emma: This is definitely the ‘Golden Ticket’, isn’t it? We have found that, what you describe as a ‘big advancement’, is generally stumbled upon during design and research stages. Sure we set out to achieve a goal, but often the direction changes along the way and we arrive at a more exciting and productive result. Take the development of our women’s cycling pads as an example. We knew that we needed a gender specific pad and, after researching women’s skeletal hip measurements and ischium pressure points, we developed our new Altura ProGel Pad and went into sampling. During test riding we found that we had done it wrong and had to go back to the drawing board because of pinching to female riders tender areas. The design team got together and we arrived at researching the design and shaping of sanitary pads – as we all felt this was the best example of comfort. Our new Altura ProGel Pad draws design cues from these and I can honestly say that it is the most comfortable pad that I’ve ever ridden. This an example of how small changes to a project can affect big change and advancement in design.

Sophie: Women are very educated on sports apparel. Women are influenced by a lot more elements then just the PERFORMANCE side of the product. Women want more from their apparel… they expect performance, but also want beauty. Women like to shop, it’s a lot more appealing for women to buy clothing then a wheel. Technical innovation comes with style these two factors are very important. The fit and fabric used on the product is key too, women want style, fit and function.

If Altura gave you unlimited budget and resources to work on women’s cycling kit what would you design?

Emma: This has never been a restriction for Altura – We always approach a project based on what is right for the rider and how we can improve their riding experience. So, we are already working on new and exciting projects for female riders that mirror the successes we are experiencing across our other riding categories. We have a great Product Creation Team of female riders who are all super passionate about what they do and are always bring new ideas to the table.
The 2018 season is going to be exciting for Altura.

Sophie: Umm, it’s coming soon, you will see in the future collection!

Huge thanks to Emma & Sophie at Altura for their time answering these questions. And I think we can all agree that the more women designing cycling kit for women the better!

altura A/W womens cycling kit review

Altura cycling sent me some of their A/W kit to test out on my daily commutes. 

When Altura Cycling sent me an email asking if I’d like to try out their AW range of kit. The first thing I did was check their website to check if there were any images of women on the landing page.

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Sadly there are none. There are pictures of women when you navigate to their women’s section but none on their home page including the instagram and twitter widgets when I checked.

It’s one of those little things that I like to logic test with brands. I don’t think there should be quotas, but I’d like to think that the people behind brands would think to put up images of women in their kit, especially on their homepage. Unfortunately, not much of the cycling industry passes this test.

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So, in a “you can’t influence change without being a part of it” mood I agreed to test out their new Women’s A/W kit and get a few images out there of women who cycle in quality made-for-women kit.

WOMEN’S SPORTIVE TEAM LONG SLEEVE JERSEY

My only caveat for the testing kit was, NO PINK, so they kindly sent me a selection of their black & blue kit.  This jersey wasn’t something I thought I needed for cycling (short sleeve jersey and a jacket is fine for commuting) but it’s the thing I’ve worn the most since the weather turned from the hot hot humid summer. It’s a really nice not-too-baggy-fit but still looks sleek on. It has a bit of a lined insulation inside but is still breathable when I work up a sweat passing other cyclists Amwell Hill 🙂 I have found it’s the perfect thing to wear with bib shorts (and fancy socks) autumn when it’s not raining. It also keeps to my most important rule – not too much faff. I know it will be inevitable, but I want to avoid wearing loads of layers when commuting as it’s only 30 minutes and the faff of changing in/out of so much kit every day is just annoying.

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WOMEN’S SYNCHRO WATERPROOF JACKET

I had been wearing my vintage (2 year old) pink Aldi jacket for cycling and didn’t see any need to upgrade, except to get away from the pink. This Altura jacket is a lovely shade of blue and so so so light. It’s like wearing a feather. When I get out on longer weekend cycles this will always be in my back pocket.  I love that when I’m wearing it the sleeves are long enough that there is no pull on my arms and the thick cuffs hold gloves well so there’s no wrist gap on chilly mornings. It’s a very slim fit so I can only wear it on cycling only days (ie. if I’m going to coach or run after work I wear a different jacket that can layer up)

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WOMEN’S SYNCHRO PROGEL BIBTIGHTS

Oh my god. These are lush. It hasn’t been especially cold so far, and I held onto shorts as long as I could, but as soon as I put these on I knew I was a bib tight convert. They are lined with soft fleecy fabric so it is like a warm, cuddly hug for your legs each morning. My only gripe is they’re just a bit too short for my long legs so I have to make sure my socks match.

Again, having a bib just makes life so much easier. There’s no “is my shirt riding up” worry (ahem, I’ve cycled behind enough men to know this is something they SHOULD be worrying about) and no wind gets in those little spaces between trousers & top. They’ve got reflecty-bits on them too so I feel safer now that it’s going to be dark for my commutes for what seems like forever more.

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THERMOCOOL LONG SLEEVE BASELAYER

At first I was like, who needs a base layer? And now I answer myself, “people who are cycle commuting when there is frost on the roads will really enjoy base layers” If I wake up and hear people scraping their windshields outside my window I know it’s base layer time. This one from Altura is really nice. It’s tight but not compression squeezy tight, fits under my bib tights nicely, and looks pretty cool and sleek when I’m wandering around my flat in a hungry daze post-commute. I wore it with the long sleeved jersey and jacket on the especially chilly days, but often just wear it under the jacket for normal London weather commutes.

So there you go. Hopefully, some honest, real reviews of kit I have now worn for 2 months commuting daily. It’s reasonably priced for what I think is pretty nice looking women’s cycling kit so chuck it on your Christmas list and hope that Santa is nice to us cyclists.

As mentioned above Altura sent me this section of their
autumn/winter cycling kit for free to test out and share on my blog. 

maximum comfort performance

There is a lot of reflection at this time of the year. Lots of people writing their best of/looking ahead posts and I’m really enjoying reading them while sitting on the couch with my feet up.

photo via: https://www.instagram.com/sixsecondshigh/

Running the Olympic Park 5k with Oiselle UK. Photo via: http://www.instagram.com/sixsecondshigh

Yes, I’ve been running a few races, and doing a few mid-week runs when it’s sunny, but I’ve been doing a lot more relaxing than usual and it feels good. I’ve got a pretty full spring of running coming up so am enjoying the extra rest and layers of energy accumulating on my body.

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A few weeks ago I lost my slippers. We did a big house clean and they vanished. The same day I got an email from Damart asking if I’d like to try a product to review on this blog. Mail order catalogues remind me of pouring over the Sears catalogue when I was younger and cutting out the things I wanted for Christmas for my letter to Santa.  Then in my teens there was nothing cooler than everything in Delias. Even though we couldn’t order the stuff in Canada I spent my whole high school years wishing I could wear a that black spaghetti strap dress to one of the dances.

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I put these comfortable slippers through their paces so I can give you a fair and accurate review of them. I wore them taking out the rubbish, putting up the Christmas tree, and to/from the toilet in the middle of the night. Being a bit more of a shoe than a slipper they’re good for running between the couch and the kitchen. For all your comfort needs! I don’t really know what else to say, if you have any slipper performance questions let me know in the comments.

For maximum comfort performance I have been living in these slippers and my merino wool track pants from Oiselle.

I received these slippers for free from Damart in exchange for writing a product review on my blog.

lights, camera, running

Last week my friend sent me this message about a woman being attacked during the morning in Finsbury Park. In this incident it probably wasn’t dark but it isn’t the first time I’ve heard about a woman being attacked in the parks I run in.

The same week I was sent a big box of kit by Nathan Sports to, “Keep me safe, warm and able to pursue my running adventures through the coming season.” The were loads of lights in the kit, a water bottle, a reflective vest, and couple of pairs of feetures socks. Like a kid in a candy shop, I couldn’t help myself and put everything on once and had a mini disco in my hallway.

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I felt like a festive Christmas Tree, but I didn’t feel much safer. Being bright isn’t going to make running in Finsbury Park, along the canals, or on my favourite trails at night any safer. This obviously applies to men & women but I think we can agree women running alone are seen as more of a target for violence. Nathan Sports are obviously focusing on the “be seen and don’t get hit by car” kind of safety, so before I review the lights for that purpose I just wanted to use this as an opportunity to remind everyone that for women who run safety is so much more than lights.

How did the lights work?

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Last night I put the heel spur light on and headed out on my regular 5k route. Everyone I ran past stared at my foot. I felt part bionic and part like a kid with light up shoes. I didn’t notice it much while running and it didn’t light up my route much, but the real benefit showed when I took this video below.

I was wearing a fluro orange tshirt and leggings with reflective details. Running on the sidewalk on what I thought was a well lit street in Highbury. You can’t see me at all and only the light on my shoes shows up.

I put the water bottle on my bike for commutes and it’s perfect for extra reflectiveness in traffic. I always forget to take it off when I pop in the stores though so please don’t steal it.

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I like the idea of the reflective vest, but I don’t like wearing it. It reminds me of the borat swimsuit and just seems like another thing to faff around with before I get out the door.

I met up with my friend Heather for a run on the dark canal after work. We took all the lights and were complemented twice by passing cyclists (“Oh so bright” and “Like disco runners”) but also cat called 3 times, in 2 different languages, so you win some you lose some.

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Heather ran with the hand torch which was hilarious as she’d set off the alarm every little bit by accident. She normally doesn’t like running with things in her hand but didn’t mind running with this torch. It came in handy when we tried to run in Victoria Park and came up to this dark locked gate. Time to turn around.

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Alternative

If you’re convinced that lights are the way to safety, go for it. The Nathan Sports ones are good quality and I’m happy to recommend them. But, you don’t have to buy new kit just to run in the winter.

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Go to the track. They are well lit with other friendly runners around and a chance to push yourself a bit in the speed department. I’m running cross country & some shorter races this winter so any time on the track is good training. If you’ve never run track before check out this Beginner’s Guide to Running the Track.

Nathan Sports sent me (and loads of other bloggers it seems) a box of lights and kit to run in the dark and asked I write about my experiences using the kit on my blog. 

smelly at work

I thought about getting one of my co-workers to write this but safe to say British culture doesn’t allow me to ask a coworker to write a blog about how much I smell at work.

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I run to work, run at lunch, run home from work, do pilates at lunch, go to the gym at lunch, and sometimes walk to the really far restaurant for good burritos at lunch. Safe to say I sweat in the clothing that I wear and is scattered around my desk.

I’ve written about the amount of companies who seem to know this and want to send me nice smelling things to try. And I thank them for that. Scholls recently sent some products over and included in the foot balms & soaks for dry skin on feet was the deodorant spray for shoes.

A month ago in a pre-marathon fit of organisation I cleaned up my desk and put everything nicely into a desk drawer.

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A month later we are back to this.

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I sit in a pretty busy area of the office (right near the teapoint) and can only figure people don’t want sweaty shoe smell with their teas so have been using the Scholls spray on these shoes and ta-da no complaints! Not that any British person would ever tell me if I smelled. Only their quiet glances and tuts would clue me in on that.

The spray is handy to have and does the trick if you are worried about the smell of your trainers under your desk. I probably will not buy it again though as it’s a “nice to have” and not an essential. The foot lotion I used after spectating the Berlin Marathon (tough gig) and that was also really nice but again, not something I absolutely need in my running life.

wine time

I don’t usually drink dozens of glasses of wine on a Tuesday night, but this week I was invited to the Wine & Spirit Education Trust to do an educational wine tasting.

I’ve been to my fair share of wine tours in South Africa, Napa, the Okanangan in British Columbia, Niagara in Ontario, Santorini, and Bordeaux (I like wine holidays OK?) and most are the same. You go, get a quick intro of the wine and a few tasters that go down great.  At WSET they try to make the tasting more educational and even offer qualifications for those who wish to add to their CV.

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We got right down to tasting different wines and learning that almost everything about a wine is subject to the taster. Especially taste. We even tried the same wine at different temperatures and the taste was so different you can see why people get confused about what wine they like. Jim, our instructor, even said that most wines will taste different in pizzerias as they have the wine sitting in the same room as the hot pizza oven.

After a few drinks the photos got a bit blurry.

After a few drinks the photos got a bit blurry

We then moved to how wine pairs with food, which everyone seems to have an opinion with.  Using our semi-scientific test tubes we had a sip of wine, then filled our mouth with some of the “taste” and then tried the wine again. Like temperature what flavour was in our mouth had a huge effect on the taste and texutre of the wine. One of the most interesting things we did was a bitter test where we all chewed on a piece of paper and had to say when we tasted a disgusting taste. About half the room put up their hands immediately and one girl even spat it out the taste was so bad, myself and another guy kept chewing as it only tasted like paper to us.  Apparently we don’t have many bitter tastebuds so aren’t as sensitive to tannins and such in wines. Super interesting stuff.

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We also learned that the British public are basically the only people in the world who drink wine without food. The idea of ordering wine at a pub just to drink, or sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine & Love Island on the tele… doesn’t happen anywhere else. For that reason a lot of wines are made just for the British market to taste good without food.  Wines like a Barolo almost need a salty accompaniment (get those olives & parma ham out!) and thus they don’t sell as well here. Merlot, on the other hand, is very drinkable alone and in Chile they actually make it just to export to Britain. No one drinks it there!

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After a lot of wine (and more breadsticks – this runner was hungry) we called it a night and were given a bottle of wine to take home with some fun WSET wine accessories. It was a very interesting night with a fun group of people spent drinking wine.

I was invited to WSET to experience an evening of wine tasting and asked to write blog post about the event.